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Breen & Donaldson project

In 2014, we undertook a project in Alice Springs and Canberra to digitise linguists Gavan Breen’s and Tamsin Donaldson’s extensive collections of field notes for approximately fifty Australian Aboriginal languages. Gavan Breen's materials from this project have now been deposited with PARADISEC to ensure that these important materials will be more widely accessible to community members and linguists around Australia for language reclamation and revitalisation activities, and further linguistic research.

We also plan to deposit Breen's materials with AIATSIS and to provide them to regional language centres. We hope that deposits of Donaldson's materials will be possible in the near future.

Gavan Breen

In the 1960s and 1970s, Gavan Breen built an extraordinary database of materials for some 51 languages across western Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory. This database has formed the basis of many publications, including grammatical descriptions and dictionaries or wordlists for languages such as Alyawarra, Bidyara, Gugadj, Gungabula, Gunya, Kaytetye, Margany, Waluwara, Yalarnnga, and Yandruwandha. Gavan still continues his research and publication work from his office at the IAD in Alice Springs. He is actively supporting community language revitalisation activities in a number of locations, including Woorabinda, in central Queensland. The digitisation of Gavan’s extensive collection of written materials about these languages was recently completed. This task was undertaken in three stages by volunteer Clare Manning, RNLD’s Outreach Officer Felicity Houwen, and RNLD Consultant Shamini Joseph.


The following list includes Austlang codes for the languages:

Aliwambinja, Alyawarr (C14), Anmatyerre (C8.1), Antekerrepenh (C12), Araynetinh, Arrernte, Eastern (C8), Bidyara (E37), Biri (E56), Bularnu (G12.1), Gangulu (E40), Garrwa (N155), Gonaniin (Y91), Gugadj (G28), Guguyimidjir (Y82), Gungabula (E35), Gunya (D43), Gurdjar (G33), Guwamu (D33), Kaytetye (C13), Kok-Nar (G29), Kokiny (Y188), Kunggari (L38), Kungkari (L38), Kuthant (G31), Arrernte (Lower) (C29), Margany (D42), Mayaguduna (G24), Mayi-Kulan (G25), Mayi-Thakurti (G16), Mbara (G21), Mithaka (L34), Ngamini (L22), Ngawun (G17), Ngulupulu (G40), Ngurmbur (N40.1), Pertame (C8), Pirriya (L36), Pitta Pitta (G6), Umbugarla (N43), Wadjingu (E39), Wagaya (C16), Walangama (G36), Wangka-Yutjuru (G5), Wangkamanha (G1), Wanyi (G23), Warluwara (G10), Western Anmatyerre, Western Arrernte (C8), Wuna (N29), Wunumura (G16.1), Yindjilandji (G14)

Gavan Breen Gavan Breen and Clare Manning Gavan Breen at Todd River  
Gavan Breen at his desk at the IAD, Alice Springs Gavan Breen with RNLD volunteer Clare Manning in Gavan's office Gavan Breen looking at the rare occurrence of the Todd River flowing  
filing cabinet sample Breen data sample Breen data 2  
The filing system Gavan Breen has adopted for his field notes Sample page from Gavan Breen's collection Sample page from Gavan Breen's collection  


Tamsin Donaldson

Tamsin Donaldson documented the Ngiyampaa language of western New South Wales in the 1970s. Over the past several decades, Tamsin has published extensively on her research. This body of work continues to provide an invaluable resource for community members involved in the reclamation and teaching of Ngiyampaa. Linguist Lesley Woods, a Ngiyampaa woman, went to Canberra in April to digitise and build metadata for 46 field notebooks with support from Tamsin and her family members.

Lesley Woods and Tamsin Donaldson Field notebook page field notebook page 2
Lesley Woods with Tamsin Donaldson Sample page from one of Tamsin Donaldson's field notebooks Sample page from one of Tamsin Donaldson's field notebooks



Digital lifeline for Aboriginal languages facing extinction The World Today ABC Radio 22 April 2014

Veteran linguist's work preserved ABC Alice Springs 23 April 2014

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This project was made possible by a Strategic Initiatives grant from the Indigenous Languages and Arts program.